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#BookBeginnings The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Today we have a historical mystery, The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

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The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

I have read and enjoyed a couple of the novels in Sujata Massey’s Rei Shimura mystery series, which are (initially) set in contemporary Japan. In a noticeable departure, this novel is set in Bombay in the 1920s.

Summary:  Perveen Mistry has just joined her father’s law practice, making her one of the first female lawyers in India.  When she notices that the three wives of a deceased wealthy businessman have all relinquished their inheritance, Perveen decides to find out why. Someone is trying to hide the truth, however, and that person is willing to resort to murder. Perveen must figure out what is going on before anyone else is harmed.

First Sentence:

A Stranger’s Gaze
Bombay, February 1921

On the morning Perveen saw the stranger, they’d almost collided.
Perveen had come upon him half-hidden in the portico entrance to Mistray House. The unshaven, middle-aged man appeared as if he’d slept for several days and nights in his broadcloth shirt and grimy cotton dhoti that hung in a thousand creases from his waist to his ankles, His small, squinting eyes were tired, and he exuded a rank odor of sweat mixed with betal nut.

Discussion:

Does it work for you when the author simply states the “where” and “when” at the beginning of the chapter like Massey does here?

Sometimes authors artfully incorporate that information in the first few sentences, but I like when they simply state it, too. I prefer when the author does give away some information about who, where, and when up front rather than leaving us guessing.

I also like that she includes enough information for the reader to figure out that a dhoti might be similar to pants since it hangs from his waist to ankles.

What do you think? Have you read The Widows of Malabar Hill? Would you like to?

#BookBeginnings The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz

We have the newest Jane Hawk thriller, The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-crooked-staircase

The Crooked Staircase* by Dean Koontz


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  In the third novel of the series, Jane Hawk is still hunting the secret organization responsible for her husband’s death as well as the deaths countless other innocent victims. Previously an FBI agent, her pursuit of the villains has turned her former employers against her, so now she is running from both former friends and enemies. Will she be able to stop the man behind it all before her pursuers catch her?

First Sentence of The Crooked Staircase:

At seven o’clock on that night in March, during a thunderless but heavy rain pounding as loud as an orchestra of kettledrums, Sara Holdsteck finally left the offices of Paradise Real Estate, carrying her briefcase in her left hand, open purse slung over her left shoulder, right hand free for a cross-body draw of the gun in the purse.

Discussion:

What a lot of information in one sentence! We have the who, when, and where as well as a set up that leaves the reader wondering what is going to happen next.

Conventional wisdom says not to start a novel with a reference to the weather, but since this sentence includes so much else in addition to the rain, I think it works.

What do you think? Have you read any of Koontz’s Jane Hawk thrillers?

Hope you are having a wonderful Friday!

#amreading Dead Simple by Peter James

Today we have the first novel in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, Dead Simple by Peter James.

Dead Simple* by Peter James (2005)


(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

Blurb:  Four of Michael’s friends take him out for a night of fun before his wedding, but they end up dead and Michael is missing. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace takes the call and starts an investigation, which brings up memories of his own wife who went missing years before and who has never been found. Will he be able to find this young man?

A Series of Disappointments

Setting:  I had high hopes for this series because I read it was set in Brighton, UK. I have visited Brighton and enjoyed my time there, so I was excited to read more about it. Unfortunately, other than the barest of mentions of locations like

“I’m sitting in a traffic jam on the A26 south of Crowborough…”

Dead Simple could have been set anywhere, which was disappointing.

Tension:  Next, Peter James does a great job of creating excruciating tension in the beginning. The victim, Michael, is put in a bad situation and the clock is ticking. The reader wants him to be found as soon as possible,

Rather than putting long hours into the case, however, which you would expect given his experience with his wife, Roy Grace wanders off to a poker game.  Life goes on and on. He even takes his goddaughter out for her weekly jaunt.

It isn’t unusual for authors to write in quiet moments between tense scenes. Perhaps James was trying to make his protagonist seem like a regular guy. In any case, Roy Grace’s part in the story didn’t work for me. It seemed like the villains were the only ones who accomplished anything.

Solving the Mystery:  Okay, Roy Grace is a superintendent, so he’s going to put some clues together and find out what’s going on, right? Except, the author doesn’t even have that happen. Someone else steps up and wraps things up for Roy (I won’t give details, but let’s say the ending is foreshadowed toward the beginning.)

What Works in Dead Simple?

Given all the disappointments, you might wonder why this book is so popular. My guess is the plot. The beginning set up with Michael is so good that the tension in his plot thread keeps the reader reading regardless of the low key police detective. The plot also has some good twists, again all in Michael’s part of the story.

The Bottom Line:

The bottom line is that the victim is the only part of the book I cared about. I might pick up a later book in the series to see if things improve.

#amreading Thriller Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt

Let’s take a look at the new thriller Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt.

Note:  One potential spoiler (sentence labelled as such).

Fade to Black* by David Rosenfelt


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

This novel is a sequel to the 2016 novel, Blackout.

The blurb:  After getting shot in the line of duty, New Jersey state police officer Doug Brock has been busy rebuilding his life. His fiancé suggests he attend an amnesia support group where he meets Sean Conner. Conner approaches Doug with a scrapbook that he says he found in his attic, which consists of news clippings about a woman who had been killed three years before. Conner, who also has amnesia, has no idea who the girl is or why he might have made the scrapbook. Doug agrees to help and convinces his captain to open the cold case. When he discovers that he has a personal connection to the investigation, suddenly he’s questioning everything he thought he knew about Sean and wondering if he put an innocent man in prison.

Highlights:

Author David Rosenfelt started his career in the movie industry and eventually moved into writing for TV and movies. The best parts of this novel reflect his screenwriting expertise. For example, the scenes are short and tightly written. There is a minimum of setting or even action. Much of the novel consists of fast-paced dialogue.

The dialogue is excellent. It is complex and nuanced, with plenty of underlying conflict and subtext. When the protagonist Doug Brock talks to his partner or girlfriend, he uses shorthand and banter, whereas when he’s interviewing someone, he’s much more formal. The author uses the barest of dialogue tags, but it is always easy to know who is speaking.

Here is Doug bantering with his girlfriend:

“Can I tell you something privately? Off the record?”
“Doug, we’re engaged…in a manner of speaking. We’re going to be married… at some point.”
“You’re really going out on a limb there,” I say.
She nods. “I’m a risk taker…”

Notice all the contractions?

Now Doug is talking with an informant:

“We’ve been through this twice, Mitchell.”
“I don’t care. I’ll deny everything, and I’ll never testify. You need to make the promise again.”
“I won’t reveal your name. Now who are the people that could have killed Rita Carlisle?”

The scenes with Doug narrating are written in the first person and present tense, whereas those with bad guys or victims narrating are from the third person and past tense. It might take a reader a few minutes to get used to the switches, but once the pattern is established it helps the reader orient quickly to each new scene.

Rosenfelt also knows how to plot. He draws the reader off in one direction and then makes an 180 degree turn without missing a beat.

Thriller or Not?

Which leads to the question, is this really a thriller?

Traditionally, in a thriller the reader knows who the bad guy is and what he or she is doing. The tension comes from waiting to see if the protagonist can stop the bad guy.

(Possible spoiler alert) Although this novel does show us bad guys towards the beginning, we’re not really sure what they are up to and soon we find out that the bad guys might not know what is going on either.

Rather than a traditional hardcore thriller, the novel wanders between thriller and mystery. That doesn’t detract from the fact that it is paced well and does have an interesting plot.

Bottom Line:

The bottom line is that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was a fast and easy read, but still had some substance to it. I would be willing to read other novels by this author.

#BookBeginnings Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt

This week I found the thriller Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt at our local library. Let’s take a look at it for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

Fade to Black* by David Rosenfelt


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:

After getting shot in the line of duty, New Jersey state police officer Doug Brock has been busy rebuilding his life. His fiancé suggests he attend an amnesia support group where he meets Sean Conner.  Sean approaches him after a meeting with a scrapbook of a murder victim that he found in his attic. Conner, who also has amnesia, has no idea who the girl is or why he might have made the scrapbook. Doug agrees to help and convinces his captain to open the cold case. When he discovers that he had a personal connection, suddenly he’s questioning everything he thought he knew about Sean and about his own past.

First Sentence:

His name was William Simmons, but no one he knew really cared about that. Social workers asked him for his name when they gave him a meal, or if he checked in for a cot on a particularly cold night, but they wrote it down without paying much attention.

Discussion:

It’s not really clear who this character is and how he fits into the story. We meet the protagonist, Doug Brock, in the second chapter.

What do you think? Have you ever read any of David Rosenfelt’s novels?

Author Post: Lisa Lutz

Early in her career, Liza Lutz wanted to be a screenwriter. After selling one screenplay, things stalled. She first wrote The Spellman Files as a screenplay, but it was only able to publish it after turning it into a novel. After some success as a mystery author, Lisa now writes for the HBO series The Deuce.

 

Spellman Novels by Lisa Lutz:

The Spellmans are an unconventional family (read dysfunctional) of private investigators who often spend more time investigating each other than criminals.

The great thing about the series is that that you could feel comfortable recommending them to a young adult or even your mother because they are devoid of violent murders. Plus, they feature plenty of laughs.

  • The Spellman Files (reviewed) -signed copy
  • Curse of the Spellmans
  • Revenge of the Spellmans
  • The Spellmans Strike Again
  • Trail of the Spellmans
  • Spellman Six: The Next Generation / The Last Word

The Spellman’s Strike Again

Lisa Lutz also has a stand alone (so far) thriller, The Passenger (2016).

 

 

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About Author Posts:

Because I read a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of which novels I’ve finished. I thought blogging would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I read. To get more organized, I’ve decided to create a series of author posts with lists of novels and links to my reviews. I plan to edit these pages as needed.

#BookBeginnings I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

A good friend recently gave me a copy of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark:  One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. Let’s take a look at it for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-Michelle McNamara

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  True crime journalist Michelle McNamara began investigating a serial rapist and killer from the 1970s and 1980s who she called the Golden State Killer. She created a website to talk to others interested in the case. She relentlessly gathered information from police reports, and tracked down and interviewed victims. Finally, she wrote this book about her findings.

Note:  Michelle McNamara died shortly after getting the book deal in April 2016. Another writer and her husband finished the book and it was published in February 2018. Two months later, authorities made an arrest in the case.

First Sentence:

That summer I hunted the serial killer at night from my daughter’s playroom.

Discussion:

Michelle McNamara explains how she goes through a normal bedtime routine and when her family is asleep, uses her computer to research the case. On the next page she reveals that the Golden State Killer entered homes of victims beforehand and set the stage prior to the actual attack. The juxtaposition of a safe, comfortable home environment and someone breaking in to commit a violent crime is really powerful.

What do you think? Do you read true crime? Have you heard about this case?

#BestsellerCode100: Our Thoughts on Novels 100 to 54

Having finished novels 100 to 54, Karen and I are nearly half way through The Bestseller Code list of 100 bestsellers. We’ve decided to summarize our results so far in a Q and A format. (Links go to our reviews and landing pages).

What was your favorite and least favorite book from the list, and why?

Roberta:  My least favorite book from the list is the easiest to pick. I despised the main character in Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young so much I couldn’t get past the first part.

My favorite is more difficult. If I disregard the three authors I had already read and knew I enjoyed (The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert GalbraithThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson, and anything by John Sandford), my favorite that I discovered by reading the list is The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison.  I loved the sparse language and the ability of the author to keep readers on the edge of their seats even though the ending was revealed in the second paragraph. Or was it?

 

That said, I had several close runner ups.

Karen:  My least favorite book was the same as Roberta’s, Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young, for much the same reasons.  I only finished the book because I wanted to see if it would ever improve (it did not).  The main character was so horrible that you had no sympathy or empathy for him and the second portion of the book read more like science fiction rather than Christian fiction.  It was a total waste of my time.

Two other books deserve dishonorable mention in the “least favorite category” – The Klone and I by Danielle Steel and The Choice by Nicholas Sparks.

I had several favorite books and really could not choose just one.  It was a three-way tie for first place between Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, And The Mountains Echoed by Khalid Hosseini, and Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.  They all fall in the Historical Fiction genre, so it’s no surprise they were my favorites.  Each gave me insight into specific events and time periods, leading me to do more research on my own.  It didn’t hurt that the writing by each author was excellent, with fully developed characters, great descriptions, and moving story lines.  Enjoyable all the way around.

 

 

I had a two-way tie for second place between The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Steig Larrson and The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf.  One is a suspense novel, the other Crime/Mystery/Thriller.  Both of these books kept me up way too late at night reading!

Two books deserve special mention because I find that when reviewing the list of books read, I remember absolutely nothing about them — Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.  They were that unmemorable.

Has this reading challenge changed your reading selection process?

 Roberta:  If anything, it has made me less interested in picking up a bestseller. The words “bestselling author” on the cover aren’t as impressive as they once were, and instead I look for careful, reasoned reviews and recommendations of readers I trust.

Karen:  Where before my fiction selections were usually historical fiction and spy thrillers, I find I now also look for crime/mystery/detective novels.  I especially enjoyed Easy Prey by John Sandford and have begun reading that complete series.  And, as Roberta stated above, I’m less interested in a book if it is a bestseller.  I also disliked most of the novels that had won any sort of literary award.

As a writer, what have you gleaned from doing this challenge that has helped your own writing?

Roberta:  That is a great question.

Rather than learning any specific writing techniques, I learned that many of the best novelists break all sorts of “rules.” For example, there were novels (like Lovely Bones) that began with the highest level of drama instead of having the standard rising conflict with a climax at the end. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larson had pages of solid dialogue without a single dialogue tag. Some of the authors did more telling than showing. The bottom line is good storytelling is about more than simply following certain conventions.

I have also discovered that writing with a distinctive voice is something to strive for. I tend to try to play it safe, tamp down my voice, and keep to norms. The best novels turn the norms upside down.

For a few of the novels, the storytelling was so smooth and effortless, the writing disappeared from my consciousness. I was completely engrossed and hardly realized I was reading. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, but I’d love to be able to achieve it.

As a reader, what have you gleaned from doing this challenge that has impacted your reading?

Karen:  This challenge has broadened my scope of reading genres and exposed me to new authors I might not have discovered on my own.  It’s also led me to the realization that I don’t need to require myself to finish reading a book if it is not up to my expectations.  There are a lot of mediocre books out there, even if they are bestsellers, and so if it’s not working for me early on, I can set it aside and move on.

What has surprised you most about the books we’ve read?

Roberta:  I was surprised how many of the novels I didn’t like or felt were poorly written, especially some of the ones that won literary prizes. Naively, I thought bestsellers would appeal to a broad range of readers and so I’d like the majority on the list. Now I realize novels might make the bestseller lists through marketing, luck, or good timing rather than because they have superior writing or storytelling.

That said, I also admit that forcing myself to read the books during a two week window for the challenge might also have soured me to some of the books. I wasn’t always in the mood to read a particular genre when it was assigned.

Karen:  Again, like Roberta, I experienced surprise at how many truly awful books make the bestseller list (public acclaim) or receive awards (literary acclaim).  Two examples are Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  Either that, or my tastes run completely opposite those of the general reading public and/or literary prize committees.

Have you learned anything about what makes a novel a bestseller from reading the list so far?

Roberta:  The main take away I’ve had so far is that it isn’t the quality of writing that makes a novel a bestseller, but having a fresh perspective and/or a fresh story that really makes them stand out. Readers seem to like a bit of novelty, for example books about a zombie apocalypse (World War Z by Max Brooks), a love story featuring a quadriplegic main character (Me Before You by JoJo Moyes),  a novel told from the perspective of a dog (The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein) or from the perspective of a dead girl (The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold).

Having a distinctive voice also helps.

Karen: Besides having a loyal fan base that will snatch up your newest release without waiting for a review and thus potentially creating a bestseller when it should have been a dud?

Two things stand out in the bestsellers that I’ve truly enjoyed:

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What are we reading next?

We’re taking a break until November.

We have decided to take a short hiatus from the Bestseller 100 Challenge. Both of us have other commitments and aren’t able to put in the time and attention the project requires.   We will be sure to let you know when we start this challenge back up so you can read along with us.   The second half of the 100 Book List includes some of our favorite (and some very popular) authors, such as J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Barbara Kingsolver, Jodi Picoult, and Tom Clancy.  We hope you will join us at that time.

Author Post: Robert Galbraith

Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling who best known for writing the Harry Potter books.

 

Cormoran Strike series:

Private detective Cormoran Strike lost his leg in Afghanistan, but that isn’t why he’s struggling. Instead, he’s had a run of bad luck. He’s broken up with his girlfriend, is down to one client, and is living at his office. Now that he has a new assistant named Robin, is his luck about the change?

  • The Cuckoo’s Calling (2014) – my review
  • The Silkworm (2015)
  • Career of Evil (2016)
  • Lethal White (coming out Sept. 2018)

 

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About Author Posts:

Because I read a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of which novels I’ve finished. I thought blogging would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I read. To get more organized, I’ve decided to create a series of author posts with lists of novels and links to my reviews. I plan to edit these pages as needed.

Author Post: Shelley Coriell

Local Arizona author Shelley Coriell started out working as a journalist and restaurant critic. Now she writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and young adult novels.

 

The Apostles romantic suspense series 

I’ve met Shelley several times at local events. At one workshop she told a heartbreaking story about how The Apostles series came about. She was at the hospital where her father was recovering from a stroke and a bad accident with an ATV. Shelley’s sister was taking care of his health issues and her brother was taking care of the financial issues, so Shelley felt at a lost about what to do. She decided to provide a distraction by getting her father to help her flesh out a story idea she had. The three books below are the result of that hospital stay.

The Apostles are a special group of handpicked FBI agents who work for a reclusive FBI legend named Parker Lord.

I really like this series. The books are a bit darker than typical romantic suspense and probably are closer to thrillers. (Links are to my reviews)

Mystery Short Story Collections featuring Detective Lottie King

Coriell introduced Detective Lottie King as a minor character in the first book of The Apostles series, The Broken. Lottie was so popular that Shelley decided to write more about her. By the way, Shelley is a bit of a foodie and she includes some Lottie-inspired recipes.

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About Author Posts:

Because I read a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of which novels I’ve finished. I thought blogging would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I read. To get more organized, I’ve decided to create a series of author posts with lists of novels and links to my reviews. I plan to edit these pages as needed.

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